Bob Tedeschi writes in the NY Times (reg. req’d) about a new category in online shopping: “social shopping.” I’ve argued that the next wave in the development of shopping involves two trends, community and local inventory. Regarding the former, the question is: what is novelty and what adds real value? It’s clear where the value is inventory/local store information (where can I buy it today?).
First and foremost community is valuable in providing reviews and ratings. That’s now ubiquitous in online shopping and has spawned a cottage industry: product review syndicators. There’s also a valuable “discovery” element (e.g., Kaboodle and Yahoo!’s Shopophere), where people compile “pick lists” or “wish lists” or recommendations that help you as a consumer discover ideas or products that you wouldn’t have found on your own. (A great example of community integration [and much more valuable than in shopping] is Yahoo!’s Trip Planner.)
But how far “social networking” can or should be integrated into shopping is another question. Sites like ThisNext (featured in the NY Times article) are helpful and, from a blogging standpoint, serve those with a gear fetish who want to sound off all day on cameras or running shoes they like. But it strikes me that this site — though very nicely designed — is more about Web2.0 novelty than real consumer value that helps it differentiate from the throng in an already too-crowded online shopping space.
Paradoxically, the more competitors there are in a segment the more habitual behavior becomes reinforced. Because people feel inundated by choices, they stay with what’s familiar.